‘Series Of Missteps And Blunders’: How The Netherlands Failed Brussels

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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The Dutch government failed to properly heed an FBI warning that could have secured the arrest of one of the El Bakraoui brothers before the Brussels attacks that killed 35.

The inept “series of missteps and blunders,” as described by Reuters Tuesday, started when one of the Brussels bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, was deported to the Netherlands by Turkish officials in July 2015 — a month after he was seized at the Turkish-Syrian border. The FBI informed the Dutch government that the brothers were wanted by Belgium authorities months before he was seized at the border.

“On March 16, the FBI informed Dutch police over the fact that both brothers were sought by Belgian authorities,” wrote Dutch Interior Minister Ard van der Steur Tuesday.

The FBI informed Dutch authorities that Ibrahim was wanted for “his criminal background,” while his brother Khaled was wanted for his “terrorism, extremism and recruitment” activities.

Upon his arrival to the Netherlands, officials did not see Ibrahim’s name on any watch or wanted lists. He was subsequently allowed to go on his way and was not deported to his native Belgium. While it is unclear whether or not Ibrahim used a fake I.D. upon his arrival to the Netherlands, his brother Khaled is known to have used the I.D. of European soccer player Ibrahim Maaroufi while traveling Europe and planning the Brussels attacks.

Van der Steur claimed the FBI warning was shared with Belgian federal police during a meeting with a representative of the Dutch police March 17. The Belgians responded to van der Steur’s statement with a letter denying any such discussion on the El Bakraoui brothers took place. The conversation was limited to a March 15 shootout with a radical Islamist and no mention of the FBI warning was made, according to Belgian officials.

The inept and faulty intelligence and warning systems of European countries have been heavily criticized by analysts since the Brussels attacks.

“EU member states must agree on workable rules for sharing intelligence on their own nationals,” Ali Soufan, founder of the Soufan Group and a former FBI agent, wrote in an op-ed last Thursday. He also noted that there needs to be a reinvestment in human intelligence and addressing the various neighborhoods in European cities that act as “hotbeds of terrorism.”

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